02/27/2019 Nutrition and Recipes
Learn the main features of four popular diets—vegan, paleo, Mediterranean, and raw food—and take advantage of one recipe each as you explore which of these diets might work best for you.
The word diet doesn’t necessarily mean deprivation. It’s a term that you may hear and instantly associate with drinking detox drinks and eating rice cakes to lose weight. But that’s not the case. A diet is just a specific way of eating. Your diet is the food that you consume on a daily basis.
Which diet is best for you? What types of food should you be eating?
The good news is that there is no right or wrong answer to that question. Why? Because the best diet plan for you all depends on you! The diet you should follow is purely based on you as an individual. Your body is unique, and you need to take into account how the food interacts with your body. For example, do you have any digestive disorders or blood sugar issues? Or is weight loss your goal? Factors like this will determine what style of eating is best for your unique body and health. It’s not about what is popular at the moment or what diet your friend at the gym is doing. Learning about the different diets and making an informed decision about which one is right for your body is key to good health.
Some of the most common diets are the vegan, paleo, Mediterranean, and raw food diets. They are all different and unique in their own ways, so let’s break them down one by one.
The vegan diet consists of foods that do not come from animals. Everything is plant-based. Foods like chicken, dairy, salmon, and eggs are all off the table. Many people who choose to follow a vegan diet do it for more than just health reasons. Ethical and environmental reasons are also motivations among those who practice veganism.
All foods that are plant-based in origin are acceptable on the vegan diet. There are many variations of the vegan diet, but what’s true across the board is that the diet is based on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. It’s important in this diet to stick to whole foods, rather than processed vegan foods like soy-based meat alternatives or sugar-filled snacks. For example, Oreos are technically vegan, but these sugar-filled snacks aren’t a great addition to anyone’s diet (beyond an occasional treat).
What are the benefits of following a vegan diet? For starters, because vegan is a plant-based diet, the fiber content of these foods tends to be higher than in animal-based sources. Compare beef steak to cauliflower steak. Which do you think has more fiber? The cauliflower—obviously! So when you are eating plant-based foods in place of animal-based foods, you will naturally consume more fiber, which is helpful for weight loss, lowering cholesterol, and balancing blood sugar.
A few negatives of the vegan diet include the possibility of becoming nutrient deficient, particularly when it comes to vitamin B12 and vitamin D, which aren’t found in plant foods. Many vegans supplement with these vitamins to make up for the lack. Getting blood work done with your doctor can help you monitor levels to make sure you aren’t deficient.
Chickpea, Corn, and Artichoke Salad
- 2 15 oz. cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 15 oz. cans artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
- 1 cup frozen corn kernels
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoons Himalayan pink salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
Over medium heat, add olive oil to a large skillet.
Add chickpeas, salt, onion powder, and pepper. Cook until chickpeas have browned.
Once chickpeas are cooked, add the corn and cook for another 5 minutes.
Next, add the artichoke hearts, lemon juice, and parsley. Turn off the heat and stir all ingredients together.
This salad can be eaten warm, or let the salad cool and then refrigerate for a couple hours before serving.
The paleo diet focuses on eating in a way similar to the diet our hunter-gatherer ancestors followed, excluding grains, legumes, dairy, processed foods, processed sugar, refined oils, and white potatoes. It’s essentially a high-protein diet with non-starchy fruits and vegetables. Think of the low-carb diets that rose in popularity in the early 2000s. The paleo diet has a few fundamental characteristics:
- High protein intake from meat, seafood, and other animal products like eggs
- Low-carbohydrate fruits and vegetables like berries, grapefruit, apples, asparagus, broccoli, artichokes, and leafy greens
- Increased fiber intake, which occurs naturally since one-third to one half of the diet is based on fruits and vegetables
- Fat intake that is balanced between omega 3s and omega 6s from foods like avocado, walnuts, and olive oil
- High nutrient consumption with a focus on antioxidants and phytochemicals (compounds produced by plants)
Essentially, the paleo diet is whole-foods based, which is naturally good for your body because processed foods are eliminated and you’re consuming more nutrient-dense foods. The paleo diet has been shown to be helpful for those with blood sugar issues like type 2 diabetes.
Since it is a lower carbohydrate diet, you need to be careful if you have adrenal issues since carbohydrates and glucose are necessary for the proper functioning of the adrenal glands. With a diet that excludes food groups (like the paleo diet), it’s essential to speak with your doctor to determine if this diet is right for you.
Roasted Chicken Breast with Lemon Asparagus
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 lbs. asparagus, ends trimmed
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 lemons, 1 for zest and juice, 1 to cut into 4 wedges
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
On a baking sheet, place your chicken breast and season with the olive oil, garlic powder, black pepper, and cumin. Bake for 30 minutes.
While the chicken is cooking, add your asparagus to another baking sheet and add the olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Toss to mix.
When the chicken is done, roast your asparagus for 5–7 minutes.
Serve with fresh parsley and a lemon wedge.
The Mediterranean diet is all about heart health. It’s a way of eating that focuses on eating mostly plant-based foods while also incorporating fish and poultry with minimal red meat. It also incorporates healthy fats like olive oil and even recommends a glass of red wine once in awhile! Now that’s a diet you can get on board with. It promotes eating lots of herbs and spices and eating an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. It’s the most all-encompassing diet of the ones we are discussing as there aren’t many food groups that you need to avoid. You get the full spectrum of nutrition from all the different food groups. This diet focuses on food in its whole state, so processed foods aren’t recommended; because of that, it’s a high-nutrient diet.
The pros of the Mediterranean diet include lowering cholesterol and improving cardiovascular health, as well as a reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and certain cancers. It’s a great approach to getting lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in your daily diet.
Mediterranean Chopped Salad
- 4 cups mixed greens lettuce
- 1 tomato, diced
- 1/4 cup red onion, sliced
- 1 cucumber, diced
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon tahini
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup hummus
In a large bowl, add the greens, tomato, onion, cucumber, and parsley.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, and black pepper.
Pour the dressing over the salad and spoon the hummus on top.
Raw Food Diet
This diet is exactly what it sounds like—raw food! Raw food meaning food that isn’t cooked. It’s considered raw as long as it isn’t cooked above 118 degrees. Many people who eat a raw food diet are also vegan because most foods eaten raw are fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. With a raw food diet, you can enjoy:
- Fresh fruit
- Raw vegetables
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Dried fruit
- Soaked and sprouted beans, legumes, and grains
- Dehydrated foods like kale chips
- Dried green powders like spirulina and wheatgrass
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut
- Juices and smoothies made from fresh fruits and raw vegetables
- Unprocessed foods like raw nut butters and coconut butter
- Some raw foodists also eat raw meat, eggs, fish, and unpasteurized dairy products
One of the benefits of eating a raw food diet is higher nutrient consumption. Compared to processed or overcooked foods you find in fast food chains, raw food has more nutrients. Raw foods like fruits and vegetables are naturally nutrient-dense, which means they are high in nutrient content and relatively low in calories. Because raw fruits and vegetables are higher in nutrients than in calories, you have to eat more of them to fulfill your own caloric needs, and eating more fruits and vegetables means that you will be consuming more nutrients!
Studies show that eating a diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is helpful for maintaining proper fiber consumption. Fiber is helpful for keeping the digestive system regular, and it offers other health benefits, including lowering cholesterol, balancing blood sugar, and even aiding with weight loss.
This diet does have some potential drawbacks to be aware of. Since none of the food is cooked, the risk of food-borne pathogens can be high. When the risk of food-borne pathogens are high, individuals with a weakened immune system need to exercise caution with this diet. For example, those who are pregnant, have chronic medical conditions, young children, and seniors should consult with a doctor before beginning any new diet.
This diet can also be time consuming. While you might think raw food is quicker to prepare since you’re not cooking it, the prep work can take longer than a cooked dish. For example, preparing a salad with lots of raw veggies requires chopping, while cooking a pot of pasta only requires you to boil some water. Keeping the raw food diet simple will help save time.
Fruity Smoothie Bowl
- 1/2 cup frozen pitaya
- 1/2 frozen banana
- 1/4 cup frozen wild blueberries
- 1/4 cup frozen mango
- 1/3 cup cashew milk
Add all your ingredients to a high-speed blender and blend until smooth. It will be thick and creamy!
Top with fresh blueberries, banana, hemp seeds, and spirulina powder.
Now that you are familiar with four different diets and ways of eating, you can make your own decision about what diet is best for you to follow on a daily basis. But don’t worry about being strict with it! The best and healthiest way to eat is always based on how you feel physically. If you don’t feel energized with the foods you’re eating, switch it up and try something new. Don’t be hard on yourself or get caught up in following rules 100 percent of the time. If you want to follow a vegan diet, but one day your body craves red meat, just eat it! Your body will tell you what it needs when it needs it. Staying in tune with your body is the best way to go.
Most important, do what’s best for you and not what is trendy or what your friends are doing. Sometimes it takes a little trial and error to determine what food choices and eating habits work best for your body, so don’t give up if one diet doesn’t work out for you. Keep adjusting until you find what makes you feel the best.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
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